New body on education welcome

New body on education welcome

The Centre has taken a bold decision in scrapping the decades old University Grants Commission (UGC) to replace it with a new body called Higher Education Commission of India (HECI). In order to confirm that this is not merely a change in nomenclature, or an empty gesture, it has allotted Rs 1,10,000 crore in the next financial year in order to speed reforms in higher education. Although this move has created needless apprehension among the academia, it promises long term benefits in teaching and research standards in universities. These had plummeted beyond words during the last 50 years. As its very name suggests, the UGC was empowered to grant financial aid to universities in order to “promote, coordinate and maintain standards of teaching, examination and research.” It also had unlimited freedom to do so without any checks and balances. The result was a critical proliferation of substandard universities which claimed grants for colleges without proper buildings, courses without proper teachers, and research programmes of doubtful standards. Since the UGC exercised enormous powers to sanction these grants, colleges with ambiguous courses and ill-equipped teachers sprouted all over the country. The UGC always pleaded its inability to correct these anomalies “for lack of sufficient teeth.”

Whereas, the proposed Act transfers all grant functions to the Human Resource Development Ministry itself, while the HECI will rightly focus on academics by prescribing norms to be followed by institutions of higher learning. It will also be empowered to close down erring institutions unlike the UGC which had the power only to slash grants. The Centre aims at setting up regulatory systems instead of punitive ones. The goal is not to interfere in the day to day affairs of universities or their affiliated colleges. They will enjoy greater autonomy, their teachers will have the freedom to innovate programmes and their students will be able to pursue higher studies at more affordable costs. Instead of threatening to cut grants, the regulator will have the power to close down substandard institutions as well as bogus courses of study.

By prescribing public disclosure of academic performances as is done in the world’s best universities, this reform certainly promises better management of higher education with lesser scope for needless interference. Because its focus will be on academics rather than finances, the proposed reform should see a quantum leap in India’s higher education. Since universities have a responsibility to society as a whole, they must promote a commitment to the pursuit of excellence in all walks of life. The post-graduate stage especially assumes greater significance in this regard, where the importance of outstanding research facilities cannot be underestimated. The best talent in the country must be harnessed towards this end. This is where the UGC fails, and where one hopes the HECI will live up to expectations. 

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